Oregon students protest Higher One at Portland symposium
By Taya Alami
Students from a number of colleges and universities staged a quick protest against Higher One on the campus of Portland State University on Feb. 22.
The 20-minute protest began at 6:30 p.m. in the Smith Memorial Student Union Building at Portland State’s main campus.
ASLCC Campus Community Director John Price said protesters hoped images from the brief rally, fueled by the fees charged by Higher One and a lack of alternatives for students, would go viral.
“Community college students and (students at) other four-year institutions don’t have another option when it comes to how their financial aid is being distributed, so they’re literally being forced to be taken advantage of by this third-party banking company known as Higher One,” Price said.
In a Feb. 4 interview, Higher One client relations specialist Lauren Perry said students with Higher One debit cards are required to acknowledge the bank’s fee schedule.
“We have a lot of transparency that’s very straightforward and educational when it comes to the disclosure of our fees,” Perry said. “We want to make sure students are aware of certain fees students might incur because of certain behaviors prior to choosing that optional checking account that Higher One offers. But that’s just one option for them. If they have a banking relationship with a local credit union or a national bank, the choice is there for it go into that account as well.”
Perry said Higher One’s practices are similar to those of comparable banks and also fall in line with federal requirements.
“It’s always free. Students will never be charged to receive 100 percent of their money,” Perry said. “That’s required by the Department of Education.”
The protest coincided with the Oregon Student Association’s annual conference, the Northwest Student Leadership Symposium, also at Portland State’s main campus.
OSA Executive Committee Chairwoman Alexandra Flores-Quilty said the students representing all of Oregon’s public universities and community colleges — as well as students from Idaho, Washington, Alaska and Quebec — are attending the symposium.
“I’m pretty sure there’s participation (in this protest) from every school that’s present,” Flores-Quilty said.
Students across the country have also organized similar efforts in hopes to reform student-lending practices.
“Lane Community College and Portland State University have been the leading schools in Oregon. We’ve been doing a lot of work on this,” Flores-Quilty said.
Lane students testified before the Oregon House Consumer Protection and Efficiency Committee in a Feb. 4 hearing about Oregon H.B. 4102.
In its introductory form, the bill would alter the business model for financiers like Higher One, the finance company that acts as a middle-man between the federal lenders and Lane’s student borrowers. It would prevent financial firms from deducting charges, fees and other administrative costs from the accounts the financial firm manages.
The bill would also forbid colleges and universities from entering into contracts with firms that fail to meet new standards.
Higher One has long been criticized by students for charging fees for non-credit transactions, ATM fees and overdrafts. Students with Higher One cards are charged 50 cents per debit transaction, while credit transactions that require a signature are fee-free.
Portland State student government President Harris Foster helped organize the Feb. 22 rally. He said student leaders took action after receiving a high number of complaints from students about Higher One’s practices.
“Students are being forced to use a bank that is not on the free market. They wouldn’t otherwise use it,” Foster said. “I call that extortion.”
Foster’s cabinet’s first initiative after he took office in 2013 was to work towards renegotiating the university’s contract with the Connecticut-based financial firm.
Students have been working with the Consumer Protection Bureau to help change national regulations, he said.
Last year, Higher One reached a $15 million settlement in a class-action lawsuit filed by students. The settlement also mandated a change in the bank’s business practices.
(News Editor J. Wolfgang Wool contributed to this report.)
Oregon State Police and Oregon Department of Transportation personnel cover the body of an unidentified man who fell into northbound traffic from an overpass approximately two miles north of Lane along Interstate 5. The incident occurred shortly before 1 p.m. on Feb. 22. (Aron Graham/The Torch)
A traffic collision has left an unidentified man dead along Interstate 5 approximately two miles north of Lane.
According to the Lane County Sheriff’s Office, a man scaled the overpass fence near Exit 191 before falling into northbound traffic at approximately 1 p.m. on Feb. 22.
The Lane County Medical Examiner will determine whether the death was a suicide.
Oregon State Police is investigating the incident.
CLARIFICATION: It is unclear whether the man jumped or fell from the overpass. The Torch has updated this report accordingly.
Photo by Matt Edwards/The Torch
Because mascots have crushes too
Wielding a Valentine’s Day card and bouquet of flowers, Lane mascot Ty the Titan asked college President Mary Spilde to be his valentine.
“I will be your valentine, for sure,” Spilde responded.
Associated Students of Lane Community College Communications Director Robert Schumacher said that although the mascot was a little bit nervous before his proposal, he wasn’t going to let it show.
The Feb.14 proposal was a complete surprise to Spilde, who was just sitting down to a would-be meeting with Schumacher about financial aid disbursements when the college’s mascot tiptoed into her office with a small handful of student leaders close behind.
“So you actually don’t want to talk about Higher One?” Spilde said. “I feel so bad for (Lane’s Legislative Director) Brett (Rowlet). I had him send me four pages on Higher One for this morning.”
Rowlet was in Washington D.C. at the time.
Spilde laughed as Schumacher shrugged an apology.
Students close to Ty the Titan said he doesn’t know a more caring person than Spilde, and that’s why he chose to ask her to be his valentine.
“That was probably the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen,” ASLCC Senator Melissa Ratthasing said.
“I think he’s blushing,” ASLCC Student Resource Center Director Jennifer McCarrick said.
“Ty’s heart is in the same place as Mary’s heart, and that is with our campus — and most importantly, with all of its great students,” Schumacher said. “Ty loves our campus, and Ty loves how passionate Mary is about her students.”
Spilde told the students in her office that even though she had garnered a number of national awards during her tenure at Lane, nothing could ever mean more to her than recognition from students.
“Thank you so much. … This means so much to me,” Spilde said, but “I really thought you wanted to talk about Higher One.”
Jazz-fusion band headlines event
Splashy cymbals and smooth melodies filled the ninth annual Oregon Jazz Festival Jan. 24 and 25.
For nine years, Lane and the University of Oregon have collaborated for this event.
Festival directors Ron Bertucci and Steve Owens built the Oregon Jazz Festival from the ground up. Their vision was to create a celebration where students, scholars and fans can come together to appreciate the art of jazz.
Bertucci said the two directors decided to join forces in 2005. Before that, each school had its own jazz event under a different name. After integrating, the resources of the festival grew.
Since then, Lane instructor and original composer Paul Krueger has taken over as director of the Lane Jazz Ensemble.
“It’s really great to have Paul at Lane. He’s a great person,” Owen said.
Student musicians of all skill levels come from all over the region to represent their schools’ programs. During the day, these ensembles are judged personally by a board of qualified professionals. After critiquing the bands, the professionals lead clinics and workshops for the students, Owens said.
“It’s a huge learning experience,” Lane student and jazz trombonist Cassidee Fosback said.
The clinicians divide the students into their ensembles, and the students are given feedback on their performances.
“We couldn’t ask for a better situation with guest artists,” Krueger said.
Just after lunch, the participants are divided one more time — this time, according to the specific instruments they play. The students are then again schooled in techniques that will benefit them when the judges are scoring for points. However, that is not what this festival is about, Owens said.
“We want to reward people that do exceptional work. Nothing about our festival is a competition,” he said.
At the end of each day, entertainment was provided by participating schools. On the first night, the Lane Jazz Ensemble opened with a display of smooth jazz.
“The students are making great progress, and they put together a great performance,” Krueger said.
The Oregon Jazz Ensemble followed with a crisp, uptempo, poppy style that had the audience tapping their feet. Owens maintained a similar laid-back style.
As both bands played, guest instructors jammed personally improvised solos. This style is integral to jazz, as the performances are jam sessions as much as they are concerts.
On the second night, scholarships were awarded and the top two jazz bands took the stage as openers for the headliner, Kneebody, a progressive, electronic-infused jazz band out of Los Angeles.
The band usually consists of five members. However, the band’s saxaphone player couldn’t make the performance. It was up to a quartet — bassist, keyboardist, drummer and trumpeter — to pick up the slack.
After Kneebody’s set, the audience roared chants for an encore. The band was happy to oblige.